There's a scene in the middle of Saim Sadiq's ironically titled "Joyland" that sees Haider (Ali Junejo) save the lighting impaired show of trans dancer Biba (Alina Khan) by urging everyone to shine their cell phone lights towards the stage. It's a bustling moment of joy that interrupts the generational struggle of the film's many characters and establishes a quiet humanity that most films never realize. It's easy to say from that point on, the film is all tragically downhill- full of subdued emotions and some of the year's most striking cinematography- but "Joyland" is too smart to be just an international downer. The characters are too dimensional.... the emotions are too well earned.... and Sadiq understands that great truth comes from great sadness. Outside of the central relationship between Haider and Biba, "Joyland" tracks the rest of Haider's extended family as they convene in one large house together. The cultural observations typical in most Iranian films are observed but mangled. Both wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq) and his sister-in-law (Sarwat Gilani) are dynamic. The various sideways and byways given to the rest of the family are highly involving as well as they try to simply live in a modernized world. But "Joyland" ultimately rests on the destructive relationship of Haider and Biba as they navigate capricious times together. It all comes together in a damning finale that washes over the viewer (literally) and exemplifies the messiness of life;s choices even if we try not to hurt others.
Or "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" to distinguish it from another film of the same name, this rah-rah war effort starts out pretty disdainfully..... full of macho swagger and the same military might that infuses most films about America's involvement in Afghanistan after September 11th. But once the film shifts gears in the second half and concerns itself with Jake Gyllenhall trying to save the translator (Dar Salim) who saved his life, "The Covenant" emits a few interesting ideas about the price (and scornful debt) of war. It's also the first film in a while to present war violence in a clear-eyed and unflinching light. Ritchie and company certainly have fun watching all those bodies spray about, but there's a ruthlessness that's undeniable. While it's a film that clearly wants to earn its stripes with middle 'merica, I forgive some of its awful gung-ho earnestness in the way it presents pretty much everyone with guilt-soaked hands.
The Eight Mountains
Europeans seem to do heartfelt, decades-spanning tales of friendship better than most. In Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch's "The Eight Mountains", that sentiment is again exemplified. Telling the story of two men (Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi) who waver in and out of each other's lives for 40 years, "The Eight Mountains" dispenses with narrative gently and wisely. Even though some elements of the story seem a bit forced in that art-house way (especially the building of a mountainside house), the film never condescends in the way its characters ebb and flow across time. All the performances are spectacular and the cinematography is equally breathtaking, whether its exploring the snow capped vistas of a mountain range or the barely lit interiors of brick-enforced homes. But through it all, the "The Eight Mountains" captivates because of the carefully modulated central relationship between Pietro and Bruno and how-despite their best efforts- they slowly slide into becoming their fathers. "The Eight Mountains" doesn't blame anyone, but gracefully explores how life gives us immense perspective of both the exterior and interior.